Photos by Trent Sherrill, Words by Jake Steele
This is, among other things-a story about firsts. At the risk of stating the obvious: it is the first of what will hopefully be many stories of the automotive persuasion I write for this site. It is also the first time I have really written in first person. I have never written an in depth article centered around how a car of mine came to be-and frankly, it will no doubt be a little weird. This car and the story of how it came about is borderline entertaining I suppose, but the impact it made on my life is undeniable, and that is the real story. This is a story that has a lot to do with new beginnings, life altering occurrences, chance encounters and life long friendships. In very brief terms, it is the epitome of the spirit of Iron and Steele.
It was the spring of 2008 and I was living a decent suburban existence. It was your typical scene: 9 to 5 job, 5 to 9 wife, a house and a lot of dreaming about hot rods. It was the kind of thing you would mostly expect from a 26 year old guy with a lot of ideas that were mostly bigger than his means, but I was getting by just fine and even making progress on a Model A coupe that I had bought as just a body a few months before from a local guy I had met through the Jalopy Journal. When I say “progress”, I mean that I had mostly acquired parts I thought I would need to make the project a reality and had done a really great job of several “mock ups”.(In hindsight, it was a lofty goal for me at the time, and ultimately that particular car would go down the road before it ever truly got off the ground)
One Sunday afternoon I was doing some yard work at the house, day dreaming about hot rods and dreading the work week that was about to kick off the next day. Most people are able to enjoy their weekends, I tend to spend most of mine wading through the angst associated with the coming week, and telling myself about all the bitchin' cars I'm going to build with my hard earned dollars to have it all seem worth it. This was basically the situation on this painfully typical Sunday. I pulled the mower out of the garage and finagled it past the coupe body and the 64 Chevy pickup that was perpetually clogging my driveway, and out to the lawn. After about 15 yanks on the pull cord, it was refusing to fire up. Without much investigation as to why, I was fully convinced that it probably needed a new spark plug. Why? Because: If it needed a new spark plug, that would mean I would have to go to the parts store and purchase one, which would mean that I would no longer be doing yard work... Right? Besides that, the refreshment situation was reaching a critically low level. Off I went.
Driving to the closest auto parts store, I was thinking more about my Model A coupe project than I was the mower.. I had conveniently taken the long way there and per usual, my mind wandered pretty deeply into the abyss of possibilities that car had... “Flathead powered? No-banger powered for now, just buy a running and driving chassis, put the body on it and drive it. No-a 32 frame and a nailhead. No, flathead. Screw it-early small block Chevy and be done with it. No, that wouldn't be right.... Yes, of course it would be. MAN, this is hard.. Let's move on to the chop. 6”, no 4.5”, no 5”, no. Well, maybe. What about color.. ” This was the basic theme of the drive. The only difference being that it all ran together in a chaotic and fleeting way, (KINDOFMORELIKETHISREALLY) You get the idea... About 20 minutes into this and I found myself pulling into the Car Quest parking lot without even realizing it.
As soon as I walked in, I was immediately struck by two things: The first thing was the 8” pompadour poking out from behind the computer to greet me. The second and almost simultaneous thing was the back end of a beautiful blue 60's era yacht of a vehicle that was parked on the side street and visible through the open door behind the counter. “Hey man, what's up?” the pompadour poked his face out from behind the computer, smiling and kind of half nodding, half bobbing his head as he said hello. It was a lot to take in. Here in front of me is this extremely friendly seeming Elvis-themed bobble head welcoming me to the store, which would have been enough to make me stop and go “huh?” on it's own. But then, there was this car that demanded all of my brain's power to process at the same time. I kind of vapor locked for a second and when asked what it was that I was looking for, all I could muster up was a point of the finger and an awkwardly spewed “is...that, ugh, your car?” That choppy half-sentence would be my first utterance to a guy who would very quickly become a life-long friend. His name is Travis Eubanks.
Travis wasn't shy about talking about that car. He had just gotten it back from being painted and having the upholstery done, and it was stunning. It was, I found out, a 1968 Chrysler Newport-which sounds like a no-big-deal kind of car, and I agree, in most cases. But this car had everything going for it-the stance, the lines, everything. It was a couple inches off the ground and draped in a gorgeous light/ almost baby blue paint job. I'm not doing it justice right this moment, but it really had the look, it stopped you in your tracks and forced you to look at it, you didn't have a choice. I was in love.(I would eventually come to own this car about a year later, and enjoyed it thoroughly for about 4 years. That car is a completely different story for another time).
Travis and I sat at the counter for 45 minutes, talking about cars and life, girls and beer, etc. Basically, everything but the spark plug I had originally gone there to buy. Through our conversation, we figured out we had very similar taste in just about every topic previously noted. It seemed Travis had a Model A project too, and was interested in seeing mine. A deal was struck: when he got off, he would head over to my place to check it out and shoot the shit. Two hours later, that beautiful blue Chrysler came rumbling up my street. By this time, the mower was a distant memory and tucked away in the far corner of the garage, making way for my Model A to take center stage in my cramped garage. As we stood there and drank, talked about possibilities and dreams, stories began to be told. One story Travis had to tell was about an old man that lived just a few miles away who had 10 Ford Model A's in his garage. Skeptical but intrigued, I pressed him for more details. “I don't know the dude's name, but I guess he's kind of a dick. I've seen some of the cars though, they exist.” He went on to tell me about how others had tried, but nothing was ever for sale with this guy. I knew right away that I would have to take a look for myself. With darkness falling and beers disappearing quickly, I began making plans to check it out the next day. As I said goodbye to my new friend and exchanged numbers, my mind was racing with thoughts of what may be hiding just two neighborhoods over.
The next day was an agonizing affair at work. I had been counting down the hours until I could go look for these Model A's since I walked in the door. As the minutes ticked by slowly, I began to wonder if my new buddy was full of shit.. “A guy with 10 Model A's? In N.E. Portland, in some neighborhood? Sounds made up to me. What a fool I must have been to believe these drunken tall tales that some stranger told me.. Dooped. What an idiot. But still....... what if it were true? I better go check... “As I started my drive home, I knew I'd be making a detour. About 25 minutes later, I found myself following the half-assed directions Travis had given me, and in 10 more minutes, I was stalking houses that fit the description of what I had been told. As luck would have it, I wouldn't have to look very far. About the fifth house I drove slowly past had an open garage door. The lights were mostly off, but in the doorway was an unmistakable silhouette: the back end of a Model A Coupe. I had found what I was looking for, and right where Travis had said it would be. Well, hell.
Finding the place, I would later find out, would be the easiest part of the adventure... You see, I had heard that this guy was strange-even maybe a little bit crazy. And it was said he didn't exactly love people stopping in. I knew I had to approach it the right way. So, over the next several weeks a ritual began: I would drive by every night on my way home from work. On weekends, I'd make several trips. Each time slowing to see if the garage was open, or if the owner was outside. It had to be just the right timing. I felt like I would probably only have one shot at the whole thing. After about twenty tries, the stars aligned. One evening as I drove by, I encountered an open garage. This time the lights were on, and a small, grimy, gray-haired man was shuffling around between two Model A's. This was it. I made my approach, cautiously and optimistically.
As I walked slowly up the driveway, just about to shout my first courtesy “HELLO?” into the unfamiliar garage, I was stopped in my tracks by an agitated voice asking “What the HELL do you want?!?” It seemed every element of the story Travis had told me was holding true.. I had to think quickly. I apologized for the intrusion and explained that I had noticed his cars from the street and that I thought I would stop by to say hello and introduce myself. And naturally, I was obviously a Model A buff myself-didn't he know that I too had a Coupe? Shit, I just need to get that out in the open and he will surely change his tune.... It was approximately fourteen seconds into this explanation before he interrupted me, stating that I was making him late for his dinner, which was waiting for him at the kitchen table. He wanted no part of talking about cars: his, mine, or otherwise. Goddammit, his pot pie was getting cold. In short, the first round went to him. But I wasn't willing to give up just yet. It would take several more attempts, each with pretty similar results, before I would make my way into the interior space of that garage. If I remember correctly, it was a month of “popping by” before I was allowed the privilege of being half-way invited in. Even then, it was made very clear that I was not to touch anything, nor should I ask to buy anything. I agreed to the terms and made my way in.
Once inside the garage, I found a 1931 Model A Coupe, a 1930 Model A Coupe with an adapted truck bed, and a 1930 Model A Sedan. “Ok”, I thought “where are the other 7?...” As time went along, I found out that the garage had a shop behind it, full of cars, all Model A's. There was also a row of 4 portable shelters in the back yard, each containing a Model A. By my estimation, there was probably more than 10 cars there, but I wasn't allowed to see into the shop at this point. In fact, I only was able to look into it once, from the doorway, in the dark. There were multiple cars there. And from the looks of it, the nicer ones lived there. I noted a Roadster and a Sedan, both looking fully restored and much nicer than the cars up front. One of the cars in the row of lean-to's out back was a 1931 Coupe. It was painted an almost John Deere color, with black fenders. He referred to it as being “restored” but it was very clearly an amateur attempt at making a tired old car look presentable at best. (also, you'll note I am referring to this guy as “he” - that would be because it would be two full months before he told me his name.. It was “Bob”)
As time went along, I began to get a little closer to Bob, on his terms of course. His mood dictated to what level and when, but a friendship seemed to be forming. Don't get me wrong, he is a prick, that part is non-negotiable. But once I learned how to navigate him, he began to open up a little. For about a year I would stop by, offer to help with whatever he was tinkering on and BS. About half the time he would be interested, the other 50% of the time, he would literally tell me to get the hell off his property. It was a very strange situation for sure, but I was making progress. It would be a full year of that before I would introduce the question of whether or not he might be willing to sell me one of his cars. I had sold the rough Coupe body I had in the meantime, hoping to buy something further along. And I had my eye on the green Coupe at Bob's house.
As it it turned out, the green '31 Coupe I had decided was my best target happened to be the car that Bob had owned the longest. “Great”, I thought.. “He's attached to it.” To my surprise, he actually turned out to be less attached to it than the others. Eventually he would tell me one night that if there were any one he would sell, it would be that one. It was a start. Not exactly a commitment, but a start none the less. I waited another couple of weeks before bringing it up again. It would be another two months of carefully presented inquiries before he would name a price. The price he gave was fair and I told him I would be back later that night with the cash. “No.” he said, “I don't have the title here, it's in a safe-deposit box at the bank. I'll go there Friday. Come back Saturday, and not before.” I agreed to the terms and hopped into my '68 Chrysler (yes, I owned Travis' Chrysler at this point) dreaming about the future hot rod I would be driving home in just a few short days. I was elated, all my hard work and putting up with crusty old Bob's bullshit had paid off. At least that's the way it seemed.
That Saturday I went to Bob's with a pocket full of cash. I knocked on the door, which I had never done before. Until then, I had only stopped if the garage was open, which had turned into a sort of unspoken invite to stop by. But today was different, we had a deal, and I was there to buy my car. And I wasn't wasting any time waiting for him to open up shop. I knocked once. Then twice. Nobody opened the door. His truck was there, I knew he was inside. Did he not hear me? Just as I raised my arm to knock a third time, the door angrily swung open, revealing a very confused looking Bob, who was eating a piece of corn bread the size of a brick, half of which was on his jacket, which was as filthy as ever. “How are ya, Bob?” I asked, grinning like a chimp and eager to collect my prize. “I was just fine until you got here and banged on my goddamn door-what the hell do you want?!” he asked in typical fashion. I explained that I was there to pay him for the car and take it home as per our conversation a few days earlier. He stared at me blankly and with cornbread falling out of his mouth, angrily told me that he was not going to sell me that car. Why, you ask? Well, he had talked to some “friends” of his (I had never heard him speak of any other humans he may know until this moment) and that those friends told him the car was worth much more than the price we had agreed on, and that some punk-ass kid was trying to get one over on him. Hmm.. I will be honest here, the initial price he gave me was fair-but there was no robbery taking place here. I asked if we could go in the shop and take a look at the car together, and talk about what we both thought would make sense. “Nope” he said. “It's not for sale. Go home, I have shit to do.” and just like that, the door was shut on my dream of driving the A home.
Of course, I wasn't about to drop it. I was willing to pay more. But I underestimated the games I'd have to play to make the deal. Every visit, a different price. Sometimes it wasn't for sale, other times it was. It was an agonizing month of negotiations and games, until it all blew up one afternoon. With a pocket full of much more cash than we originally agreed on, after one last bait and switch from Bob on the day I was again“supposed” to buy the car, I lost it on old Bob: “Take the fucking money, Bob-or I'll wait a month for the estate sale sign to show up out front and buy it from your fucking widow, you old fuck!” (Now full disclosure: I knew it was a shitty thing to say. But you have to understand how long this had been going on. It was ridiculous. When put into context of the situation, I was actually taking it easy on the guy.) Well, somehow that was just the thing he needed to hear. Finally, after I don't even know how many hours invested into the hardest car deal I had ever made, he took the money. I hopped in my new car and drove it home. Bob agreed to follow me there to give me a ride back to pick up the car I had driven there. That is, after he demanded I give him gas money to do so.. (I lived literally two miles away from him) I parked the car in the driveway, got into Bob's filthy old beater pickup and spent the next 15 minutes on the scariest ride I had ever been on. I knew he didn't hear so well, but I found out right then that he was also likely blind. I never thought I could be scared traveling through neighborhoods at 20 miles an hour, but he made it clear that it was possible. It was also obvious right then why every panel on his truck was dented. Somehow we made it back to his house. I got out of the truck, thanked him for selling me the car, and told him I would stop by in a couple of days to check in on what he was up to. His reply was to the point: “I don't ever want to see you again. Get the fuck out of my driveway.” It was a request I fulfilled. I was done with Bob and his mood swings, I never stopped in again.
As I pulled away from Bob's house, I called Travis. “I got the Coupe!” I exclaimed, “Get your ass over to my house and gawk at it with me!” Approximately 14 seconds after pulling into my driveway, tires screeched to a halt on the street, and a shocked looking Travis came walking up, beer in hand, and shaking his head in amazement that I had finally sealed the deal with mean old Bob. “holy shit..” he said. Holy shit, indeed. I was proud of the achievement for sure. After countless hours of bullshit, there it sat. For a few minutes we just stared and repeated “holy shit.” It was the first complete Model A either of us had ever owned. Prior to this car, we both had been perpetually attempting to piece together something resembling a hot rod out of spare parts and rusty junk. Now, we had a complete car to start with. It was almost surreal. Looking back, that seems like a thousand years ago, and it's almost comical to think of how long we had both struggled and jacked around with BS projects neither of us had business starting at that point in our lives. But this was different. It would be the beginning of what would truly accelerate our hot rod careers. About an hour later, Travis and I had the Coupe stripped. Fenders, running boards, bumpers, spare tire, etc. all came off as fast as we could turn the wrenches, each piece that hit the ground making the car look that much better. Just before the sun began to set, we took turns driving the newly stripped-down “hot rod” up and down the street in front of my house, laughing and high fiving the entire time. Somewhere I have pictures of that afternoon, but I don't need them-I remember that day extremely well. It was the day I fell in love with early Fords, a love affair that shows no sign of fizzling out any time soon.
The first order of business was to get a plaque on it. You see, somewhere along the way, Travis and I had started a car club called the Estranged. At this point it was really just him and I, a couple of crude jackets and two cast aluminum plaques. What we didn't know at the time was that the humble beginnings of what was really just two guys and an idea, would soon turn into a full-fledged car club. In time we would meet some of the most amazing people in the world, and be lucky enough to call them friends and club members. Nine years later, The Estranged Car Club has turned into one of the most recognized clubs in the Northwest and beyond. It still amazes me to this day how truly fortunate I am to know the others in this group. The Estranged would turn into a way of life for me, and after all these years, there is nothing I am more proud of than that club. The amount of life lessons I have learned from the men and women in that group is staggering, and it has undoubtedly molded who I am today. The Estranged is a story of it's own, and one that I will tell more in depth in another article, it is exceedingly important to me.
Getting back to the Coupe that would eventually be known as “The Business”, it too started out very humbly. Once the dust settled and the excitement wore off, I began to really start assessing the car. It was more rough than it looked. It needed patch panels here and there, and it didn't run as well as it could. It did have a dropped axle and juice brakes already, which was nice. After just a few weeks of owning it, I set out to have it chopped. I was no fabricator, and even as young, dumb and ambitious as I was at the time, I knew I would need the help of a professional. It was through Travis that I would meet a man named James who could perform the work. A deal was made to trade for some parts I had, and off it went. This part of the car's story is one I am going to leave brief. In short, the deal got very complicated through a series of misunderstandings, and would result in two things: A long-lingering sense of tension between myself and this individual, and a Model A Coupe that had the roof cut off, 5” removed, and tacked back on. It needed to be finish welded, massaged, and in general completed, none of those things were within my skill set. So, for around a year, I drove the car just like that. I cut the muffler off, added a down draft carburetor and embraced it for what it was. I drove the dog shit out of it that way, testing the limits of what a basically stock Model A should really be doing, and I had a blast. All the while, I was making plans to have the chop finished. At that time, the only person I knew who could do it was angry with me, we were not speaking, and I settled into the understanding that the car would probably remain in that state for quite a while.
It was around this time that I would meet another person who would change my life forever: Robbie Davis came into my life through the car world of course. I admired him instantly, not just for the amazing cars he has, but for who he is as a person. And I know that I've said “that's another story” multiple times, but I have to include Robbie in that category as well. No other person has ever positively influenced my life as much as he has. He has taught me a countless number of things about cars, life, and what it means to be a good man and a good person. In short, he became a mentor, hero, role model, and friend all in one. It's hard for me to stop typing on this subject, but I will write a dedicated article at some point in the near future about Robbie and I. Through Robbie, I was introduced to another eventual club member, Aaron Clyde. Aaron is a fabricator, painter and all around “make it happen” kind of guy who owns a shop called South Bound Customs, where he builds and paints hot rods and custom cars. The second time I saw him was at the Billet-Proof show in Washington. He was hammered, we all were. I had taken my Coupe in it's unfinished state, and had virtually given up on the idea that it would ever be completed. As we sat and drank beers in the grass, Aaron approached the car, ran his hand over the now rusted and exposed welds on my roof and said “I got a guy that can fix this piece of shit. I'm Aaron by the way.” I knew I liked him right away...
The next time I saw him, he told me that he would have a spot opened up in his shop in two weeks, and to drag the car up. I explained that I appreciated it, but I was in no position to be paying to have the car finished. I had just began the process of divorcing my wife at the time, and that I was struggling to find a way just to hold onto the cars I had and not lose them in the divorce. He looked at me and said “Look, I get it. Just bring it up to my shop, bring some beer and let's finish it. It looks like shit.” A few days later, it was at South Bound Customs, and there I was, grinding welds down and following Aaron's direction. Initially, the plan was to simply weld it up, spot some primer on the top and move on with life for the time being. It's funny how plans change...
As it often does, one thing lead to another. Once the chop was finish welded, ground smooth and primered, the plan slowly began to shift. “Let's just paint this fucker” Aaron said after a late night of working on the coupe. I was pretty shocked and at first, hesitant. I hadn't planned on painting the car for quite a while. I certainly hadn't been preparing myself financially for a full-blown paint job. And I certainly didn't want to further impose on what was already an incredibly gracious gesture with him patching up my old jalopy. Before I could even make the objection, Aaron made it clear: “just buy the materials and come back ready to work, I'll show you how to paint a fucking car.” And with that, it was on. There was a period of about two months where I would head up to Aaron's shop after work, sand until 2AM, head home, sleep for three hours, get up and go to work, do it all again. The work was incredibly tedious. I think at the time I thought I knew a little about body work. I don't know what made me think that exactly, but if there was one thing I learned right away, it's how little I did know. Aaron would give me a task, tell me to sand one area of the car in this way and that, until it was perfect. I would spend three hours on a small area until I thought it felt like glass. I'd then grab Aaron, proclaim that I had completed the task, and offer that he check for himself. More often than not, he would walk over, run his hand over it once and say “You're not even close..” This went on for months, until one day it was finally ready to spray. Aaron shot it in a single stage light green with a brownish/gray highlight on all of the body reveals. This wasn't the plan until the very last minute and when we peeled the tape, I was blown away. It had turned out even nicer than I had imagined it could have, and the colors were absolutely perfect.
From there, it went to Guy Recordon of Guy's upholstery in Portland. I had gotten to know guy pretty well by this point, and he was an amazingly talented upholsterer. He had also become a member of the Estranged family not long before he treated my coupe to a new white vinyl top, which went well with the colors, and the big and little wide white wall Firestones on steel wheels I had purchased from fellow club member, Mike Thompson. The seat was already a black pleated job, and I made simple black vinyl door panels to top it off.
As elegant as it appeared on the outside, it was really pretty far from it in terms of the way it behaved. It was a loud, sweaty, rattly beast that commanded all of your attention to drive with it's stock running gear and hopped up banger. I vividly remember many late nights/early mornings of driving that car through the streets of South East Portland, wide open throttle, setting off car alarms and raising hell as I raced home before the police happened onto me. It was some of the most fun I think I've ever had in my life: That car on a summer night, streets packed with confused onlookers as I went blaring by, without a care in the world; just me and my hot rod Ford coupe.
It's important to note that the accomplishment of completing this car was one thing, but in reality, that coupe was a rolling representation of the absolutely AMAZING people that had all flooded into my life all at one time. There is zero chance that it would have ever been completed to look like the car you see in front of you without these people, that is simply a fact-I physically could not have done it on my own. And while I was completely floored with the end result, I was more so taken aback by the caliber of people I had met who had helped me make it a reality. Those guys, who they are as people, not just as car guys, changed my life in indescribable ways. It is without any exaggeration that I can say that a couple of these people have literally saved my life more than once. They have all forced me to be a better person, and taught me so much about traditional hot rods along the way. The fortunate circumstances that allowed me to meet these people through the building of this car shaped my life forever. As I said before; this hobby, these people and club have become a way of life for me, and I wouldn't change it for anything in the world. The Business would ultimately be sold locally a few years after it was completed. I had found a Willys pickup that I wanted to buy, and the coupe would have to go in order to fund it. I eventually built that Willys into a gasser known as “The Hustler III” with the help of Robbie Davis at his shop: “The Temple Of Speed”, my second home.
Although the little green coupe is gone, it isn't forgotten. It still lives in the area, and I am able to chat with the new owner occasionally. He has left it untouched for the most part, although he did say he had plans for a flathead V8. I've had multiple opportunities to buy it back, but have declined. That car, what it is and what it was, represent a period in time that has come and gone. It was a stepping stone to bigger and better things, more growth, different cars, and stronger relationships with the club I call my family. It was an experience that couldn't be duplicated, not even by having it back in my garage. My hope is that it is as significant to it's new caretaker as it was to me. On to the next.......